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Great Females Graphic Designers: Susan Kare

Great Female Graphic Designers: Susan Kare

We review the history of the Great Female Graphic Designers: Susan Kare.

In Eslogan Magazine we love to review the history of the great figures of advertising, graphic design and typography. Everything related to a world that we are passionate about. In fact, if we are here now it is thanks to those people who dared to do something different and think in an uncommon way to inspire us.

They are great artists who, unfortunately, will not stand out in any art gallery nor will people remember them. But his work has been present in the day to day of millions of people, in those details that are not seen and those things that are not given importance. Great male designers like Massimo Vignelli, Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Ivan Chermayeff & Tom Geismar, Walter Landor or Herb Lubalin. Great illustrators like Drew Struzan or Greg Martin. And great typographers like Adrian Frutiger.

We have reviewed the history of all of them but … what about women? In a time when male domination was palpable at all levels, great artists excelled in a world dominated by men. And after this dramatic introduction (XD) we give way to the review of the great female graphic designers of history: Today, Susan Kare, the designer of the icons and typography of the first Macintosh.

Great Female Graphic Designers: Susan Kare

Susan Kare en Apple

Susan Kare was born on February 5, 1954 in Ithaca. A small town located on the shores of Cayuga Lake, in the central part of the state of New York. He started in the big city studying Fine Arts at Mount Holyoke College, where he graduated in 1978. After she moved to San Francisco to work as a supervisor at the Museum of Fine Arts.

It was a casual encounter with an old friend and employee of Apple, Andy Hertzfeld what led her to accept a job in the company, as a designer of screen graphics and digital sources. Susan didn’t have computer skills or experience in digital design, which was very incipient at the time, but it revolutionized the art of pixels and user-computer communication.

Steve Jobs and Xerox

Steve Jobs y Susan Kare

It was the time when Steve Jobs was looking for partners to be able to train his new software for the Macintosh. A visit to Xerox left him shocked. These were the creators of the graphical user interface or GUI thanks to Douglas Engelbart, who incorporated a cursor driven by the mouse and multiple windows to work in hypertext. Since 1973 they had been teaching colleagues (people like Herbie Hacock or Al Gore) but it was not until 1979 that Steve Jobs gave meaning to everything they did. “You are on top of a gold mine! Why do not you take advantage of this technology?” were the words of Steve, who copy the graphical interface that they had created in Xerox.

But that interface needed something, a minimalist, simple and intuitive sense that Apple prints to its products. Andy Hertzfeld knew that Susan Kare was the ideal to take this challenge. Thus, the two began to work on the creation of icons and typographies.

Susan Kare Icons Macintosh

The work at Apple as an icon and typography designer

One of the first tasks of Susan Kare was to develop typographies for Mac OS. At that time, digital typefaces were monospaced, which means that a narrow “i” and a wide “m” occupied the same bitmap space, that is, the same amount of horizontal space, as in a write machine.

A standard bearer of Pixel Art, Susan Kare applied all her knowledge to accomplish her task: transform small squares of black and white pixels into a symbol to helps the user to interact easily with their Macintosh. To do this, she maked everyday elements that served as a metaphor for, visually, making clear to the user the action he would take, of the element that is involved.

The method of work

At that time there were no applications, so he bought a grid notebook and started with the design.The development team indicated what they needed and she developed the icons to adapt to the different functionalities. Its icons emerged from art history books, extravagant gadgets, toys or hieroglyphics. The first works that came to light was the first set of icons in the system. Among them was the Happy Mac’s icon that appeared on the initial screen, with the wastebasket, the clock, the pump and the file, application icons and files.

Susan Kare Bocetos

He also made the first Mac fonts such as Chicago (reestablished in Apple’s iPod interface). The New York and Geneva typefaces were also developed by Kare at this stage.

Susan Kare typography

During his time at Apple he finished shaping the user interface, giving it a universally attractive and intuitive visual lexicon. Instead of thinking of each image as a small illustration of a real object, he tried to design icons that were as instantly understandable as traffic signals.

A wristwatch to indicate that the team was performing an action and that we should wait. A paint pot for drawing applications. A bomb to warn us that something had gone wrong or the Command key, that imitated the cross of Saint Hannes, originally symbol of a “place of interest” in the 50’s in Finland. It later became a traffic signal in Scandinavia and was later used in Sweden to indicate an interesting place or tourist attraction.

Susan Kare Command Icon

Life after Apple

In 1985, after launching the first Macintosh, Steve Jobs was fired from Apple. He established his own computer company, NeXT Inc. and Susan Kare accompanied him as Creative Director. This gave him the opportunity to contract Paul Rand to design the corporate identity of the company. At that time, Kare was already a fervent admirer of Rand’s work. Today he continues to consider it one of his main influences and inspiration.

According to her, Paul Rand was “a great designer and excellent writer whose advice on how to approach design problems is perennial. His sense of color and his insistence that design has meaning continue as a guide, as do his advice on the work presentation and dealing with customers ».

Working for Microsoft

Susan Kare Microsoft Design

A few years later, in 1988, in a bold move, Kare agreed to develop a job for the competition. Designed the outer shell of Microsoft’s Windows 3.0 operating system. Working with the Microsoft system presented a new challenge: the color. According to Kare, “I really enjoyed working for them. Different groups, different design challenges and a difference in the relative roles of marketing versus engineering. He adds, “I liked the challenges and opportunities that came from having 16 colors.”

Susan Kare Microsoft Design

Already in 1989 he founded his own studio: Susan Kare LLP, which he established in San Francisco. He continues designing interfaces and iconographies for diverse clients, big and small. Her projects are varied, from mail apps for smartphones, graphics for smartwatches, icons of all kinds and even a collection of decks and magazines for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

They try to solve the problems of the clients, delivering strong and masterfully elaborated works; “Sometimes we act directly with engineering, and sometimes through marketing. But we always put everything that is on our side to exceed expectations and give added value. “

The recognition of Susan Kare

Susan Kare Icons

In 2001, Susan Kare received the prestigious Chrysler Award. This award is given to people who have “influential on modern American culture” through design. And she joined into the most talented and renowned designers such as Scher, Sagmeister, Mau and Jobs. Another great honor was its inclusion in the first I.D. Forty of the magazine I.D. in 1997.

He won a position on the advisory committee of the United States Mint where he reviewed the design of coins. He is currently also part of the board of directors of a toy company.

And that’s the life of Susan Kare, one of the most influence’rs female Grpahic Designer. We leave you with some videos of the time and how Susan Kare elaborated her designs for the Macintosh.

Behind the design of original Mac icons

Macintosh Commercial with Susan Kare in 1983

Susan Kare Conference

Sources | Experimenta, blog artes visuales, Applesfera, Torres Buriel



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  1. Great article of women pioneer to avoid being sexist, but why do you still pronounce Susan Kare as a HE? Wrong in so many levels!

  2. A text about female designers: a typo in all the “she” pronouns throughout the whole article so we read “he” instead…. Lol

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